VIA – SANTA CRUZ SENTINEL
Posted: 07/31/2011 01:30:49 AM PDT
On a hot, sunny Saturday in July, Pleasure Point surfer Kristen Jacobsen was bicycling home after a double session. The swell was building as the tide rose, and as Jacobsen stopped to enjoy the late afternoon beauty with a couple of friends and fellow surfers at 26th Avenue, she commented to them that her “Mama Bear” sense was wide awake. The ocean was showing its wild power.
“Kids drown in these conditions,” she told Darren Gertler and his girlfriend.
Just then, a huge wave washed across the beach, sweeping a young boy toward the road and a culvert that runs beneath it. As Jacobsen and her two friends watched, the boy’s mother raced across the beach after her son. Suddenly, both were gone, pushed deep into the culvert.
Acting without hesitation, Jacobsen, who was in a wetsuit, and Gertler, who was in street clothes, plunged into the lagoon on the opposite side of the road from the beach. They swam into the culvert beneath the street, following the sound of screaming.
With the access blocked by a wooden beam and brown, gunky foam, Gertler reached under the beam and found the boy. With a warning, he pulled the 5-year-old boy from under the beam. Next came the mother, who had been inhaling water as she held her son’s head up into the few inches of air inside the culvert.
Jacobsen took the mother and carefully inched them out of the culvert to safety, while Gertler swam with the boy. After the dramatic rescue, Jacobsen and Gertler cleaned
the victims with fresh water and warmed them with towels before taking them to Jacobsen’s house for warm showers.
“When I’ve told the story, people say, Did you educate them so it won’t happen again?'” wrote Jacobsen in an email following the rescue. “And my response is: We who are ocean people read the ocean and can anticipate when it’s getting more dangerous… so instead of thinking the unsuspecting can fend for themselves, I think we need to think and act as members of our community — pay attention, talk to people, help them be safe, or even pull them up from drowning.'”
While the dangers of rescuing a drowning victim are significant — besides potentially unsafe conditions, active drowning victims are often panicking and can endanger their rescuers — surfers are in a unique position to act decisively to save lives when lifeguards are not present. Experienced surfers have an understanding of ocean dangers such as rip currents, rock or cliff hazards, extreme tides and rising swell that exceed the awareness of an average beachgoer.
“The shorebreak was pumping, and the tide was really high,” recalled Gertler, 26, about the day of the rescue. Gertler is a CSU Monterey Bay student who lives on Pleasure Point and shapes his own surfboards. “[Jacobsen] predicted what was happening before it happened. As surfers, we’re used to looking at the ocean and knowing the dangers. All the surfers knew it was big that day, the tourists didn’t. It’s definitely better that someone that knew how to surf and swim did something than a bystander.”
Jacobsen’s astute observation — that as community members, surfers have a responsibility to act before an emergency occurs and to warn people when dangers are present — is an idea that deserves attention.
City and state beach lifeguards sometimes make hundreds of “safety contacts” on a single shift, warning people about hazards like large surf, rip currents or dangerous rocks. By extension, surfers should adopt the same prevention mentality, especially when there are no lifeguards present.
As the story of the rescue made by Jacobsen and Gertler demonstrates, Jacobsen was already aware that the conditions were dangerous to people on the beach, particularly children. Thankfully, her alertness allowed her to react instantly when she witnessed what could have been a double drowning.
Another dramatic rescue occurred earlier this year at the Santa Cruz Longboard Union Memorial Day Contest at Steamer Lane. Event competitor and Santa Cruz City Lifeguard Paul Steinberg was getting ready to paddle out for the final heat when he spotted a swimmer in distress near the Punch Bowl.
“It was howling wind for the last final of the day,” Steinberg remembered. “I was the only person who went to jump off the point, because it was so sketchy. And I was the only one who saw them: There were two people who had been in the water for over 30 minutes because no one had climbed down the point. One of the guys was fine and was able to climb up the cliff. His friend was barely able to keep his head above the water and barely able to respond.”
In this situation, Steinberg was doubly qualified to act, as an experienced surfer and lifeguard.
“The swimmer was unable to get up on the rocks and was being swept farther out to sea by the strong winds and current,” recalled Mike Kolar, a surfer who witnessed the rescue. “The swimmer was getting smashed into the rocks and was going under. [Steinberg] jumped into the water and secured his board with his leash onto the kelp … grabbed him and swam with the victim back to his surfboard, where he proceeded to fight the rough seas and brought the swimmer to safety. He put everything aside and prevented a potential drowning.”
Steinberg, a UC Santa Barbara student, is quick to give credit to fellow competitor Seth Bowman, who helped with the rescue, and Santa Clara Fireman Danny Cortazzo, who was waiting with his medic bag when Steinberg reached the shore.
For the full story and all the photos, go here:
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